WASHINGTON -- The day after Republican Scott Brown's decisive win in Massachusetts, President Obama and the Democrats were still trying to get a grip on reality about his unpopular healthcare bill.
Obama blamed the Democrats' crushing defeat in the critical Senate contest on his administration's failure to focus more on the still-weakened economy. The political rebellion against government-run Obamacare was nowhere on his list of reasons that led to his party's rout in one of the most liberal states in the country.
Sure, many issues fueled the voters' unhappiness -- especially double-digit unemployment, a failed stimulus spending binge, trillion-dollar budget deficits, unprecedented debt and higher taxes to come.
But exit polls at voting places around the state showed that 52 percent of the voters said they opposed the healthcare legislation, and 42 percent said they cast their vote to help Brown stop the president from passing his healthcare bill.
But as Sen.-elect Brown was preparing to fly to Washington, White House aides were still insisting that Tuesday's election was not a referendum on Obama's presidency or a reflection of deep unhappiness over his healthcare legislation.
Democratic strategists who have talked to party leaders said that there was even reluctance in the White House to recognize that the nation's independent voters were deserting the party in droves over health care.
Even some of the most die-hard Democratic supporters of healthcare reform now recognize the political threats posed by the $2.5 trillion tax-and-spend contraption Obama and his aides were pushing toward swift enactment before Tuesday's vote.
A couple of days before the votes were cast, longtime liberal crusader Bob Kuttner, co-editor of The American Prospect magazine, acknowledged that "the health bill has already done incalculable political damage and will likely do more."
"It is hard to know which will be the worse political defeat -- losing the bill and looking weak, or passing it and leaving it as a pinata for Republicans to attack between now and November," the Boston Democrat said in an analysis in the Huffington Post Web site. Obamacare had "become politically radioactive," he said.
Democratic leaders were desperately trying to come up with a plan to save the centerpiece of Obama's domestic agenda that had now become a huge political liability by week's end.